THE MORNING AFTER VERDICT: Wanderers 2 Middlesbrough 2
AS heroes go, they don’t come much more unlikely than David Ngog.
Pretty much written off as a player who will be leaving this summer, if not this month, it is universally accepted around the Reebok that the Frenchman has failed to make the impact his hefty price tag warrants.
But every once in a while the softly-spoken Parisian striker pops up with a moment that reminds you what all the fuss was about. And this was one of those moments.
Considering news of Wanderers’ eye-watering debts was on everyone’s lips prior to kick off, and that Zat Knight did his level best early on to alienate himself from every Whites fan in the ground, defeat here would have been a catastrophe on the first day of 2014.
Knight’s mistakes early on were of the schoolyard variety but Ngog – and earlier Alex Baptiste – saved him some very unpleasant headlines indeed.
Lots of disgruntled people had already filed out into the car park when Ngog tucked in the equalising goal on 90 minutes, rescuing a point.
Many of them will quite rightly point out that all three were there for the taking. Middlesbrough were quite poor on the day and once gifted two goals, got sucked into a game of time-wasting and long spells of defending.
But after a sound beating against Leicester and a set of financial figures that put Bolton in a class of just five clubs to have EVER lost £50million in a single year, Ngog’s goal came as a welcome bit of respite. Manchester City (four times), Chelsea (seven times), Aston Villa and Liverpool are the other clubs to have posted such horrific figures, by the way.
Dougie Freedman surprised quite a few of us by leaving out both of his goalscorers against Leicester, Jermaine Beckford and Andre Moritz. Rob Hall and Medo also made way for Darren Pratley and Chung-Yong Lee.
And not in the manager’s wildest imagination could he have dreamed up a start quite as sloppy as the one his side served up.
There had already been one let-off when Alex Baptiste blocked a goalbound header from Mustapha Carayol at the far post but just nine minutes in, Knight’s horrific afternoon began in earnest.
After turning Curtis Main near the halfway line, the big defender took a bad touch and allowed the Boro striker to feed Carayol with a clever reverse ball. The Gambian winger’s finish from the edge of the box was as admirable as Knight’s touch had been clumsy.
Chris Eagles missed a chance to restore parity almost immediately, firing wide with a half volley after Joe Mason’s first shot had been blocked by Daniel Ayala.
Knight’s day had started poorly – but on 20 minutes it got a whole lot worse.
There was barely a hint of danger when the centre-half raced to clear a long ball over the top but with Andy Lonergan already well off his line, there was an air of inevitability about what was going to happen next.
Knight’s backpass was heavy and went straight under the keeper’s foot, allowing Main to amble past the shell-shocked pair and slide in the easiest goal he’ll score all season.
The response from the crowd was one part shock, two parts vitriol. Knight’s next few touches were jeered loudly, although by the half time break there was some let up and even an improvement in his performance.
His cause was helped by the fact the Whites finally started to play some football.
Baptiste pulled a goal back with a fine left-footed finish after good work on the right by Darren Pratley and Eagles.
If only Chung-Yong or Jay Spearing had shown his cool head in front of goal a few minutes later.
The Korean winger picked up a terrible pass by Shay Given and should have fired off a shot, his pass eventually finding its way to Spearing on the edge of the box. His shot sailed high into the joyous Boro fans.
Into the second half, Wanderers continued to dictate the game.
Half the Reebok celebrated without cause when Joe Mason fired into the side netting soon after the restart.
Spearing also brought a good save out of Given with a fearsome shot from the edge of the box – but with no breakthrough forthcoming, Freedman threw on Moritz and Beckford on the hour mark to try and make a difference.
Boro nearly extended their lead when Main’s far-post header bounced off Knight and nearly inside the post, perhaps the first sign that the Whites’ luck was changing. Former Reebok loanee Jacob Butterfield then had Lonergan diving full stretch with a curling shot that breezed just past the post.
When Beckford volleyed woefully wide with the goal to aim at in the dying minutes, it triggered a flow of home fans heading for the exits.
But they would have missed the real twist in the tale as, with those remaining home fans urging their side forward, a cross from the left bobbled about in the box and fell invitingly for Ngog to lash home at the far post.
It was only his second goal of the season, and it was his first appearance on the pitch since December 3. Few fans batted an eyelid after he was linked strongly with a move to Turkish football in the last few weeks but, just for a moment, he was the toast of the Reebok.